An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Seventy-Nine

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Seventy-Eight

Hedda Burgemeister, January 1915

Dear Lucile Bremer went to Hedda’s house to retrieve clothes for Hedda to wear to the courthouse. A black skirt with a tailored gray suit coat, and, to Hedda’s relief, a hat with a heavy black veil are laid out on the narrow bed.

Barefoot and wearing only her slip, Hedda shivers in the drafty cell. She makes no move for the clothes. She cannot.

The jail matron, Mrs. Brooks, enters her cell.

“We have to get you dressed, Miss Burgemeister. You do not want to miss this hearing. It’s your key to get out of this place. To go home where you can rest undisturbed and gain your strength back.”

Hedda barely manages to assist as Mrs. Brooks takes charge of her. She slips the skirt over Hedda’s head and buttons her blouse.

“Now you just sit down here while I brush your hair.” She brushes and brushes, then carefully pins up her hair.

“You’ll see. That Mister Bee will get that writ of habeas corpus taken care of for you today, and I’ll be left here missing your company. You’re a nicer lot than anyone I’m accustomed to seeing in here. Few of these ladies, a charitable description, are the type with whom I care to converse. I sure am happy your friend brought this hat with a veil. You’re as pale as a ghost.”

~     ~     ~

Hedda’s legs fail to support her as they approach the courtroom. Mrs. Brooks and a deputy sheriff each take one of her arms to lead her to her chair. She manages a faint nod to her attorney.

Judge Anderson appears completely unsympathetic when Mr. Bee presents her application for release pending the trial. His hawk-like eyes penetrate her veil like needles.

“Given the seriousness of the charge against Miss Burgemeister, Mister Bee, I am not inclined to authorize her release. However, rather than rule today, I will consider Miss Burgemeister’s request of the court and render a decision in five days’ time. Matron Brooks, see to it that Miss Burgemeister returns to my courtroom at 11 o’clock on January 11.”

Five more days in jail. She already feels as though she has served a life sentence.

“That man,” mutters Mrs. Brooks, her arm supporting Hedda as they leave, “has never gotten out of the right side of his bed once in his whole life.”

~     ~    ~

“All rise for the Honorable W.S. Anderson,” says the Bailiff.

“You may be seated now.”

“Please rise, Miss Burgemeister,” says the Judge.

Mr. Bee assists Hedda to her feet.

“Miss Burgemeister, the charge against you is murder, not some minor infraction. Your petition for a writ of habeas corpus is hereby denied. Your bond is set at $7,500. I will see you here on February 1.” He slams the gavel on his desk.

Hedda expected for Mr. Bee to have an opportunity to plead her case.

“Your honor,” interjects Mr. Bee. “My client wishes to pay the full amount of her bail immediately in cash.”

Thank goodness Mr. Bee made advance arrangements to have cash on hand.

In the hallway, he confides, “Miss Burgemeister, you might want to consider that $7,500 a permanent investment securing your freedom. I don’t anticipate Judge Anderson will be any more inclined in your favor in February. In fact, there are a good many people in this town who would prefer your case never go to trial.”

~     ~     ~

Lucile gives her a ride home in her carriage.

About to cross the threshold of the house she once loved, Hedda hesitates. He has been dead for three months, yet she senses his presence. His ferocious temper erupting on that day.

“Hedda,” says Lucile. “You need not worry. Your house is in good order. The neighbors all helped. Everything’s spotless.”

Hedda offers a weak smile of thanks, all she can muster. Vases of fragrant flowers top every available tabletop in the parlor.

Hedda looks in the pier mirror to unpin her hat.

Crash! They both let out a scream.

Shards of glass from the front window encircle her feet.

Infuriated, Lucile rushes out onto the porch. She looks up and down Hunstock but sees not a soul.

“Hedda, I know you want to be in your own house, but you can’t stay here alone.”

Hedda stares at the floor. At a rock with crumpled paper wrapped around it.

Lucile picks up the paper and smooths out the wrinkles. The printing is crude. On purpose. To disguise the handwriting.

Lucile hurls the rock back out the broken window.

“Pack up your clothes. You’re staying with Rudolph and me until you are acquitted.”

~     ~     ~

The trip to the cemetery convinced her.

Emmy told her she will not get a fair trial.

Judge Anderson’s every move seems to signal guilty. He issued a special venire of 250 men to be summoned for the trial. Even out of 250 men, can an impartial jury be impaneled? They might as well call this town Koehler City. And all men? She wishes for a jury of typical housewives whose husbands rule their roosts like cruel dictators.

Even Mr. Bee hinted Hedda’s only hope might be to flee.

Does no one believe her?

She will speak with Justice and Mrs. Campbell tomorrow. They will be willing to take title to her house during her absence. One day soon, someone will come forward verifying how volatile Otto was. Evidence proving she shot in self-defense will surface.

~     ~     ~

Distance instills a sense of safety. As the train pulls out of Pittsburgh, Hedda begins to write.

Hedda folds the letter evenly and flattens the creases. She inserts it in an envelope, addresses it to her attorney and places a stamp upon it.

The porter passes by, and Hedda asks him to please mail it at the next stop.

Thoughts of dashing after him to retrieve it cross her mind.

When the letter is read in court, everyone will assume her guilty. They will fail to comprehend why someone innocent would leave such a substantial sum of money behind.


Hedda’s application for a writ of habeas corpus was filed on January 6. The San Antonio Express reported, “She appeared quite ill and was supported to a chair by a deputy sheriff and the matron at the County Jail.”

She returned to court on January 11, and Judge Anderson held the case “bailable.” A report at the time references a bond of $4,500, but later reports and lawsuits state the amount forfeited as $7,500, an amount approaching $200,000 in today’s dollars.

Later testimony references a threatening note received by Hedda, but what it contained was not revealed. This note is the Author’s stab at its contents. When she returned to San Antonio several years later, reports claimed her attorney had advised her to leave as well.

Bearing the date of January 28, Hedda’s letter to Carlos Bee was mailed from somewhere between Pittsburgh and New York. Her attorney read the letter to the Court on February 1, and her bond was forfeited.

Continue to Chapter Eighty

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